The driver of this Edmonton Transit System bus was taken to hospital after an assault Thursday morning. ((CBC))

A 24-year-old man has been charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault after a veteran Edmonton bus driver suffered serious injuries on his bus during the Thursday morning rush hour.

Gary Edwin Mattson is also charged with assaulting a peace officer. Police allege he spit on the officer who arrested him.

The bus driver, who is in his 50s, suffered serious head and facial injuries in the attack and required surgery.

"We are absolutely disgusted that one of our employees would be injured just for doing his job," said Ron Gabruck, director of safety and security for Edmonton Transit. "This is a long-time, dedicated employee of transit and certainly our hearts go out to the family."

The driver has worked for Edmonton Transit for 33 years. This is the first major assault on a driver with the transit system in more than three years, Gabruck said.

Dispute over bus fare, police say

The incident started just before 7:30 a.m. on a No. 10 bus at 139th Avenue and Victoria Trail in northeast Edmonton, when the bus driver stopped to pick up a man just as he was pulling away from the stop.

A dispute began as soon as the man boarded the bus, police spokeswoman Karen Carlson said.

"It appears to be a discussion that occurred over the fare for the bus ride, and it is at that point then that it's alleged that the bus driver was attacked by the male," she said.

The passenger allegedly started assaulting the driver, then dragged him off the bus and continued the attack on the side of the road before fleeing. The man appeared to be intoxicated, police said.

A suspect was arrested nearby.

The driver was so badly hurt that another employee who came to help didn't recognize him, according to Stu Litwinowich, president of Local 569 of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

"[He] thought that he was actually a pedestrian that had been run over," he said.

The bus was equipped with an on-board camera, and the video of the incident was turned over to police. 

Transit assaults on rise

Drivers are trained to deal with aggressive riders by using verbal tactics to help defuse any situations, Gabruck said.

According to Gabruck, minor assaults against Edmonton Transit employees are on the rise as incidents are now reported more regularly.

Last summer, officials announced that Plexiglas shields will be installed to protect drivers on some of the city's riskier routes.

However, Gabruck said the transit system is still looking at some prototypes and the shield is being tested on only one bus.

"We have not been satisfied with the models we have seen to date," he said.

Litwinowich believes a shield would have protected the driver in Thursday's attack. "It would have offered him … a lot of safety and security, in my mind."

Grabuck wanted to assure people that Edmonton buses and trains are safe. About 66 million rides are taken on the system each year and crimes are rare, he said.